Sunday, February 23, 2014

Trading Deceptive Philosophies for Commitment to Christ - A Sermon Based on Colossians 2:1-14

Paul wrote the letter to the Christians in Colossae to help them understand the importance of a Christ-centered faith. In the first half of the second chapter of the epistle, Paul makes it clear that once a person makes a commitment to Christ, they must never turn back to their old way of living nor allow the philosophies of the world to distract them from 100% commitment to Jesus Christ.

Colossians 2:1-15
1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person. 2 I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery—Christ. 3 All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him. 4 I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments. 5 For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ. 6 Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude. 8 Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ. 9 For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, 10 and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority. 11 You were also circumcised in Him with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah. 12 Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. 14 He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.

Verse 1 - For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person.
• Though Paul did not live in Colossae, he still struggled a lot to help the church there.
• Struggle was a key part of Paul’s life and ministry.
• The Greek word in this verse for struggling is ἀγών (agon) and refers to the 100% all-out effort that an athlete puts into winning a competition.
• In order to have a strong faith and be a blessing to those around us, we cannot be half-hearted Christians. Anything worth doing is worth putting our all into.

Verse 4 - I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments.
• Paul wanted them to know that struggle was a part of the Christian experience so that they would not be deceived by false teachers who taught otherwise.
• Our culture today is filled with false teachers who appeal to our fleshly instincts and attempt to distract us from 100% commitment to Christ.
• The word deceive is the Greek word παραλογίζηται (paralogizomai) and refers to a debater who presents an alternative version of truth that sounds plausible but is actually based on falsehood.
• Many of the world’s philosophies sound good on the surface, but are built on complete falsehoods. We must not be deceived by those philosophies.

Verses 6-7 - Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude.
• Paul reminded the believers in Colossae that it was not enough to just claim to receive Jesus; they had to walk the walk.
• Many people can quote Bible verses, say the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23 or sing the latest praise songs, but fail to live the Christian life.
• To walk the walk consistently, we must sink deep roots into the Gospel of Christ and build up our spiritual strength so we can be firmly established in our faith. When we sink deep roots into the Gospel and establish ourselves strongly in the faith, we discover a life that overflows with gratitude.
• Gratitude leads to joy and greater levels of happiness in life.

Verse 8 - Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.
• Colossae had a number of prominent false religions, each based on a different underlying philosophy. Paul wanted the Colossians to be careful not to be taken captive by those ideas.

Prominent false religions in Colossae and how they relate to modern philosophies:
• Worship of the goddess Cybele was known for its unrestrained sexuality. They celebrated sex in any form and with anyone refusing to accept any guidelines or moral codes. There are many people in our modern world who still think that sex should have no guidelines. At best, this leads to a lot of broken hearts and at worst it leads to the exploitation of women and children.
• Worship of Apollo was very artistic in nature, focusing on music and poetry, with a twist of mysticism (magic) thrown in. Though on the surface the music and poetry piece is fine, the use of magical arts in their worship sounds very similar to the New Age movement today. Though many New Agers are lovely people, their dabbling in the mystical realm leads them further and further from the truth instead of closer and closer to it.
• Worship of the goddess Artemis included being in tune with nature. She was the original Mother Earth. Her followers wanted to protect the Earth and saw the Earth as a living entity. As Christians, we must care for the earth as good stewards, but we should never worship the earth. It is an object, not a god. While caring for the environment is very important, we should never put it before caring for people or obeying God.
• Poseidon was worshipped as the god of the sea. He was seen as a passive-aggressive god who sometimes liked his followers and gave them calm seas to fish in and sometimes sent storms to destroy them. No one knew how to please him. There are still passive-aggressive people in the world who think everything revolves around them and no one can please them. We must not allow such people to drain the life and energy out of us.
• They also worshipped Pluto, the god of the underworld. This cult was obsessed with death and often included evil and/or painful rituals that might result in death. It was a gruesome religion. There are people in our modern world who are focused on death or the macabre. The live for death related music, television shows, and media. There are also people who actually worship the Devil through Satanic rituals that bring pain and/or death to their victims.
• Finally, there was Merkabah Mysticism. This was a mixture of Jewish and Greek religious ideas that was closely related to Gnosticism. This philosophy required radical obedience to the Old Testament law interwoven with regular periods of 12-40 days of asceticism. This asceticism included: fasting, celibacy, wearing simple clothing, poverty, sleep deprivation, and self-mutilation. Followers of Merkabah Mysticism hoped to ascend into heaven to commune with angels and/or God or any number of other gods and then return to earth to share what they learned. Though Paul may have been referring to any or all of these philosophies, based on a number of comments throughout this epistle, it was most likely Merkabah Mysticism that was causing the most difficulty for the Colossian believers.

Verse 8 - Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.
• Paul makes a distinction between philosophies based on the forces of the world and those based on Christ.
• The world appeals to our emotions, our desire to be liked, our sensual urges, and our fallen sinful nature.
• Christ calls to us to follow His example of real love and sacrifice. Christ calls to us to do all things for the glory of God instead of for our own glory.
• For our commitment to Christ to be real, there can be no turning back.

Verse 11 - You were also circumcised in Him with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah.
• Paul uses the concept of circumcision to emphasize how spiritually these believers could not go back on their commitment to Christ, just like the Jews could not undo their physical circumcision.
• Every Jewish male was circumcised when they were a week old.
• In biblical times most cultures did not practice this, or only practiced it for a selected few.
• The Jews were the only known group to make it universal for all males.
• Circumcision was something that could not be undone (obviously!).
• Even male converts to Judaism had to be circumcised in order to become Jewish.
• The concept in Jewish thought was, once a Jew, always a Jew. There was no going back.
• Paul uses circumcision as an illustration of how our commitment to Christ must be a lifelong commitment, not a temporary one. Once we become a Christian, there can be no going back.

Verse 12 - Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
• Paul then goes on to explain how the early church used baptism as a sign of a person’s commitment to Christ.
• Baptism in the early church was done by immersing a person completely under the water. In fact, the word baptism comes from the Greek word baptizo and means to dip under or to immerse.
• As we are immersed completely under the water, it symbolizes how Christ was buried under the ground for us. When we come up out of the water, it symbolizes how Christ rose from the dead and coming out of the tomb.
• Though churches sometimes baptize infants or young children, people in the early church were not baptized until they were old enough to make a personal commitment to Christ.
• Those who have never been baptized should do so as a public testimony of personal commitment to Christ. Those who were baptized by their parents as infants or young children should consider being re-baptized as their own personal commitment to Christ.

Verse 14 - He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.
• The Romans used the cross as a common means of public execution. It was the way they terrorized the population into submission.
• When Romans executed someone on a cross they would make a list of their crimes and nail it to the cross with the person so everyone would know what a bad person they were.
• This was often called a certificate of debt, referring to the debt the person owned society for their crimes.
• When Jesus hung on the cross, His righteousness, goodness and holiness was so great that He paid off the certificate of debt that each believer owed.
• We no longer have to feel overwhelming guilt for our sins, for Jesus has taken them out of the way. We should feel gratitude instead!

• Though the Christian life includes struggle, if we sink deep roots into our faith, the victory is worth the entire struggle.
• The world is full of philosophies that can distract us from our faith. We must not be swayed by any of them.
• Once we make our personal commitment to Christ, we should be baptized as a testimony of our commitment and then never turn back from our faith.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Effective Sermon Delivery

Many sermons with good content are less effective than they could be because of poor delivery. Once the sermon is prepared, the preacher’s work is not yet complete. Additional effort must be expended to think of ways to deliver that sermon so that it catches the attention of the congregation. Though nothing can replace the power of the Holy Spirit, good rhetorical skills are important for effective preaching.

When considering ways to keep the audience’s attention, preachers would do well to realize people learn in different ways and what helps one person learn may not help another. In a classroom teaching environment, there are dozens of teaching methods that might be used. In the church setting in which a sermon is normally delivered, there may be fewer options available, but variety can still be effectively utilized.

Some people are auditory learners. These learners listen carefully and comprehend the spoken word easily. One might say their motto is “tell me.” These are the learners who gain the most from a traditional sermon that is delivered via lecture method.

Some people are visual learners. These learners rely on pictures to help them learn. One might say their motto is “show me.” They will enjoy a graph, diagram, chart, or other such visual aids that help them “see” what is being talked about. These are the learners who gain the most when a preacher uses a power point presentation, provides a handout, or uses an object lesson as a part of his sermon.

Some people are kinesthetic learners. There are the learners who need to do something physically. One might say their motto is “let me do it.” They want to get out of their seat and take part in the learning experience. These are the learners who gain the most when asked to give a testimony or sing a piece of special music that illustrates the truth of the sermon. They also learn more when the preacher asks the congregation a question for which he wants some type of actual response (i.e.: verbal answers, clap, saying “Amen,” etc), or when the congregation quotes something together. They are often more moved by some of the liturgical aspects of worship, such as taking communion or lighting candles. They need to “experience” something that drives home the point of the sermon.

As the preacher moves from the study of the text to logistics of how the sermon will be delivered, the following principles can be helpful:

1. A well delivered sermon will have a strong central thesis that can be easily communicated to the audience. That thesis should be communicated early and often using a variety of ways so that auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners can all understand it.

2. A well delivered sermon will include facts, dates, figures or other objective points of information that can be verified by others. This gives credibility to the sermon and shows that the preacher knows his subject well. Document those sources if it is appropriate. These can be passed out in printed form, or included in a power point presentation.

3. A well delivered sermon only uses sources that are reliable. Avoid using commentaries or study Bibles that are known to contain incorrect material or poor translation/interpretation techniques. Individuals in the congregation may know more than the preacher realized and stop listening if they perceive he is using inaccurate materials to make his points.

4. A well delivered sermon has a good flow of logic without huge gaps in thinking. The congregation should be able to follow along the minister’s flow of thought without too much difficulty.

5. A well delivered sermon uses body language and tone of voice to project the right message at the right time.

6. A well delivered sermon is articulated clearly and the words are pronounced correctly. Otherwise the audience will tend to focus more on the lack or articulation or poor pronunciation instead of the point that is being made. They may even conclude the speaker does not know the subject matter very well that has serious long term implications for a preacher.

7. A well delivered sermon shows genuine emotion in appropriate ways and at appropriate times.

8. A well delivered sermon has been practiced out loud before being preached to others. Even though the sermon may change some during the actual presentation, hearing the words spoken will make the preacher more confident. It will also help determine the length of the sermon and adjustments can be made beforehand if needed.

A key concept to remember when preaching to adults is that they want to know “WHY SHOULD IT MATTER TO ME?” Often sermons contain theological truths but fail to explain why that truth is relevant in daily life. A well delivered sermon seeks to think of ways to make the truth come alive for daily living. Delivering a sermon is often as hard as preparing the sermon. But when a good sermon is delivered well, it can be life-changing for the hearers. Therefore, it is worth the extra effort to deliver the sermon well.

This material is adapted from a chapter in the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the
Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Steps To Dealing With Visitation Disasters

Have you ever been on a pastoral visit with someone and the visit went bad? Perhaps a negative issue about the church came up or maybe some personal issue between the person making the visit and the person being visited rises to the surface. When a visit turns negative, we should be ready to navigate through the situation so we can steer people back toward positive thinking. If a visit does turn into a disaster, here are some steps to follow in order to make the best of a bad situation:

1. Stay as calm as possible. Remember, the Holy Spirit knew this situation would happen and yet He sent us on the visit anyway. Trust the Holy Spirit for wisdom to get through the situation.

2. Make a written record of what happened as soon as possible while we still remember the details. Though it is possible we will never show this record to anyone else, writing it down will help us sort it out in our own minds. In the unlikely event we need to remember the exact details at some point in the future, we will be glad we have this written record.

3. Talk to the appropriate church leadership to apprise them of the situation. They are most likely going to hear about it eventually anyway, so get the awkward conversation out of the way as soon as possible. The leaders will respect us more for being up front instead of trying to hide what happened.

4. Be prepared to admit, and correct, any part we played in creating the negative situation. Even if we are only partially at fault, we should be willing to admit to that part. If we are the primary cause of the negative situation, we must be willing to admit that as well.

5. Pray for the grace and mercy of God to be active in the situation. Many times prayer changes the situation. When prayer is involved, disasters do not seem as dark as they did when they first happened. Often the Lord begins to calm everyone’s nerves as time passes.

6. Make a follow up contact in a timely way to help remove relational barriers. Be honest and tell the person we are sorry the situation turned out the way it did. Try to reach out and show kindness to them. Even if they are unwilling to accept the apology or kindness at the present moment, in time, they may have a change of heart and we want to have already done our part to resolve the situation.

No one likes a visit that turns negative. But the reality is that it is impossible to keep every visit positive. Even in less than positive situations, it is possible to have a positive long term outcomes. Following the steps above is one way to navigate the path back to a positive position after a difficult visit.

This is an excerpt from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church,
published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway. The book contains six easy to use lessons to help empower the laity to assist their pastor in serving the needs of the congregation.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Steps to Avoid a Visitation Disaster

When people are going through difficult times, they often appreciate a visit from a pastor, deacon or Christian friend that offers prayer and support. There are some practical things that a lay person can do to help those visits go better.  Unfortunately, no matter how much a pastor or lay person prepares for a visit to a member of the congregation and no matter how experienced a pastor or lay person may be at making such visits, eventually a visit will go poorly. Hopefully, this will not happen often, but it will happen from time to time. How the pastor or lay person responds in these rare, but awkward, moments will determine if the visit escalates into a disastrous situation or not. Visitation disasters take a tremendous amount of time and energy to repair relationally and spiritually, therefore they should be avoided if possible.

In order to avoid the prospect of a poor visit turning into a visitation disaster, consider these practical ideas regarding all ministry visits:

1. Pray before the visit starts. Release the power of the Spirit over the situation. There is great power in prayer before, during and after any visit, but especially in tense situations.

2. Know the situation before you go. This will keep you from walking into a situation that is already tense without being prepared. Sometimes when we are caught off guard by something, we say or do things that we would not have otherwise done. Therefore, make a phone call or ask a couple of questions before going on the visit so everyone feels comfortable with the situation.

3. Phone in advance to state the purpose of the visit so there is no confusion. This might also be done via Facebook or text message if the person being visited uses those methods of communication regularly.

4. Arrive on time. Being early or late creates tension, which sets a negative tone from the outset of the visit.

5. Refuse to be drawn into an argument or gossip session. That is never helpful in a pastoral visit. It can be challenging, especially if the person is really upset about something. But getting into an argument on a visit is a quick route to disaster.

6. Take your Bible and other appropriate literature. If the visit begins to turn negative, open the Bible and read an appropriate passage as a way to stop the flow of negativity. Just as there is power in prayer, there is also power in the Word of God. Do not be afraid to use that power, it is one of our greatest tools in ministry.

7. Take someone with you; it is rarely a good idea to visit alone. This is especially important if you are visiting the home of a person of the opposite sex or a minor. Not only does having a second person along keep everyone involved safe, it also provides an extra set of eyes and ears to be alert to things that may happen in the visit that have the potential to become negative.

8. Accept, but do not expect, hospitality, such as a cup of tea. Otherwise you might offend the person who may have planned in advance to serve something to you. This is especially true in certain cultures, so be mindful of this when visiting an ethnic group for which hospitality is a big part of their culture.

9. Introduce yourself to those present whom you do not know so that you do not come off as rude or aloof. Sometimes we falsely assume that everyone present remembers who we are and that can be awkward as the conversation unfolds and the whole time they are trying to remember our names.

10. Take care of your personal needs before the visit (bathroom, etc.).

11. Be non-judgmental in all situations, but do not imply affirmation of all things. The person being visited may share a story or say something that we find inappropriate. It is fine to re-direct the conversation, but it is not the time for a sermon on what they should or should not say or do. Remember that one purpose for a visit is to learn what is going on in people's lives. If we respond negatively to everything they say, they will quickly shut down and we will not be able to learn much. On the other hand, we do not want them to think that we agree with everything that is said in the visit. We might say something like, "Thank you for sharing your opinion on that issue, it helps me see your perspective, and since I see that issue differently, it is good for me to understand how you feel about it."

12. Know your limitations. Do not intentionally get into situations you are not equipped to handle. Capitalize on your strengths. This is why lay people should work as a team with the pastor and other church leaders. Each person is good at something, so focus on what you are good at.

This material was adapted from the book “Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational

Friday, February 7, 2014

How Lay People Can Respond to Crisis Situations in the Church

In a church where the pastor works a second job in addition to the church, the pastor may not be immediately available during a crisis situation. Therefore, lay people in the church may be called upon to respond to a crisis in the congregation. Such situations often have a high level of confusion and anxiety revolving around them. There is no real time to prepare one’s thoughts on how to deal with the situation, so the lay people who respond should simply seek to bring a sense of calmness to what may be a chaotic situation.

In such situations, it is important to realize that people who feel overwhelmed with a crisis may turn to a lay person at church because they do not know who else to call. The lay person may not be the person they should have called, but once the call is made, a caring Christian should respond the best way they know how. There are some things lay people can do in advance to prepare to respond to a crisis in the congregation, such as take whatever crisis training may be available in the community. Schools, hospitals and other organizations often provide training in how to deal with issues such as domestic abuse, first aid, suicide intervention, disaster relief, sexual assault, and grief counseling. Sign up for which ever courses seem most suitable and learn as much as possible about how to deal with these issues.

When first learning of the crisis, attempt to establish a rapport with the person in crisis. A crisis makes a person feel like no one can understand why he or she is upset, which in turn makes him or her more upset. To defeat this cycle, it is important to win the person's trust. Never tell someone in crisis how to feel. Instead validate their feelings by saying something like: “I might feel that way too if I were in your situation.” Speak in a calm, even voice, which is not always easy if someone is angry or screaming. Stay focused, remember whatever training has been taken, and seek to be a source of calmness in the midst of the crisis. In many situations, once a lay person has been a “listening ear” to the person in crisis, it is best to refer the person to other more professional services in order for the person to receive real help.

Let the person in crisis tell his or her story. People often feel better if they can tell their story and know they have been heard. Be an active listener. Show understanding by asking questions and/or repeating back what they just said. Be alert for certain words and phrases that might indicate a person is in profound distress and might be considering suicide because of the crisis. Statements such as "This is hopeless" or "My life is over" may be indications of serious danger. If the person seems to be considering suicide, be very direct about it. Ask them outright if they are planning to hurt themselves. Though this may feel awkward, if it saves the person’s life, it is worth the awkward feelings.

Offer hope without misleading the person. If it is a situation which the lay person is experienced in handling, say something based on past experience about the likelihood of a positive outcome. Or if some of the training that has been previously taken included some factual information about such situations, offer that information as a way to bring hope into the crisis. Such statements let the person in crisis know the odds are on their side. But such statements also acknowledge that the situation may not be resolved the way everyone wants it to be. Offer hope, but do not make up stories or statistics that are not factual or that provide false hope. Otherwise more harm than good might be caused if a worst case scenario happens. It is important to avoid a response that blames the person for what happened.

Once enough information has been gathered, help the person in crisis explore his or her options by developing an action plan for what to do next. After the situation is under control, formulate a plan for moving forward and finding a solution that will help the person get through the short-term state of a crisis.

After the immediate crisis has passed, contact legal authorities or other agencies if required. Make a follow up visit or phone call to the distressed person within 24 hours. Make a written record of the situation and how it was responded to. Keep that record on file in case the situation comes up again or if legalities regarding the crisis develop.

Responding to a crisis is never easy. But Christians must be there for each other, especially in times of crisis. Lay people willing to seek advance training and follow the steps outlined above can be a calm presence in the midst of crisis situations that may erupt in the lives of church members.

This is an excerpt from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church,
published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway. The book contains six easy to use lessons to train lay people to assist their pastor in ministry.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What NOT to Do on a Hospital Visit!

In a smaller church where the pastor is likely to have a second job, it is unlikely that the pastor will have the time to make all the hospital visits that are needed. In such situations, the effective pastor will train lay leaders (most likely deacons) to make those visits on behalf of the church.

I thought it would be fun to give two brief scenarios of different types of hospital visits. They are both obviously oversimplified, but I am want to use these scenarios to help make some points about how to make (and how not to make) quality hospital visits. Though the two scenarios below are made up, they are based on parts of actual visits I have observed over the years. Enjoy reading it and I hope they make the points in a way that is fun to learn and easy to understand.

A deacon or lay person making an ineffective hospital visit might have a conversation like this.

Visitor: Hello, Brother Smith. I wanted to stop in and see if you were going to make it. I heard you were real bad off.

Patient: Ah, yes, it has been a rough few days.

Visitor: From what the ladies said at church, the doctors do not give you much hope.

Patient: Well, they have said that my chances are not as good as they had hoped.

Visitor: You know my cousin Tom had the same thing and he suffered for months and months before he finally died. But he was a Christian so we knew he went to heaven, so it was okay.

Patient: Well, I am a Christian; I came to know the Lord ten years ago, so I guess I will be okay if I do not make it.

Visitor: Well, I hope you are a Christian. But if you have ever doubted it, now would be the time to make it right. Can I share the Romans Road with you?

Patient: Well, I guess, but I am kind of tired; maybe you can come back later.

Visitor: Don’t you want to hear the Gospel? It’s what you need most of all, especially if you are doubting your faith.

Patient: I do not doubt my faith, but I am worried about how my wife and kids will get by if I die.

Visitor: I am sure they can get welfare; the state will not let them starve.

Patient: Ah . . . . , well . . . ., I guess that’s reassuring. Thanks so much for coming by. I think I need to rest now.

Visitor: Okay, well, it was good to see you, and I will tell everyone all about your situation so they will know just how bad it is. That way they can pray better about it.

A deacon or lay person making an effective hospital visit might have a conversation something like this.

Visitor: Hello, Brother Smith. I wanted to stop in and say hello for a minute and pray with you. Is that okay?

Patient: Yes, please do. I have been so lonely and worried while I’ve been in the hospital and I really need the prayer.

Visitor: We have been praying for you at church.

Patient: Thank you. I received the lovely flowers from the Sunday School class, which really made my day.

Visitor: Is there anything we can do at the house for you while you are in the hospital? I can send one of the teenage boys by to cut the grass and my wife can collect the mail and newspapers for you if you would like us to.

Patient: The grass was pretty high when the ambulance brought me to the hospital. If one of the boys cut the grass, it would be wonderful. My cousin is collecting the mail and papers for me, but thanks for offering.

Visitor: Would you like me to read you a scripture before I pray for you?

Patient: Yes, that would be a blessing.

Visitor: Do you have a favorite scripture you want me to read?

Patient: I always feel comforted when I hear Psalm 23; how about that one?

Visitor: Okay, and then I’ll say a prayer for you and let you rest.

Patient: Thanks so much for coming by.

For further reflection: What made the first scenario more effective than the second one? Read through the second scenario again. How many things are wrong with that visit? What could have been done differently to make the second scenario more effective?

The above is an excerpt from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, by
Dr. Terry W. Dorsett. The book contains six easy to use lessons to teach lay people to work as a team with their pastor. Though the book is designed specifically for bivocational pastors, many fully funded pastors and many lay people are finding it equally helpful.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Keys to an Effective Hospital Visit

When people are in the hospital, they are often scared, lonely, and in need of encouragement. When they receive a well timed spiritually based visit in that time of difficulty, not only does it meet their spiritual need, but a growing body of evidence also suggests that they also recover faster physically. Therefore learning how to make a good hospital visit is important for lay people who want to help their church become more effective in caring for its members.

Many lay people hesitate to make such visits because they are not sure what to say or do. By following these simple points, a visit with a hospital patient can be joyful and encouraging.

1. Do not wear cologne. Cologne can gag even healthy people and those in the hospital may be extra sensitive to smells because of the medicines they are taking.

2. Leave the gum at home. No one likes to listen to people chew and smack gum.

3. Always check with the nurse before bringing food to a patient, even if the patient asks for it. It might be a detriment to the patient’s condition if his or her diet has been restricted for medical reasons.

4. If a gift of food is taken, it is extremely rude for the person bringing the gift to eat it. Remember, it was brought for the patient and he and she cannot get any more of it once it is gone. Never eat the patient’s food from his or her tray, as the nurse may be monitoring how much has been eaten.

5. When greeting the patient, if it is physically feasible, take his or her hand gently. When people do not feel well, they often do not want to be hugged, especially if they have had surgery.

6. Be polite and stand if there are not enough chairs. Remember, the visit will only last a short time.

7. Never sit on the bed; it cramps the patient. If there is a second bed in the room, do not sit on it, even if it is not being used. The staff may have it ready for a new patient and may not have time to freshen it up before a new patient needs it.

8. Talk audibly, not too softly or too loudly. Increase volume if the patient does not seem to be able to hear while remaining mindful of other patients in the room. Sometimes, when people are sick, their minds are a bit fuzzy from pills and pain, so their hearing may be less sharp than normal.

9. Only stay a few minutes. The point of the visit is to wish the patient well, not to spend a long period of time with him or her. Extended visits often tire a patient more than he or she realizes.

10. If a gift is taken, make sure the gift is appropriate for the situation. For example, if the patient has just had eye surgery, then he or she will not be able to read a book.

11. Only talk about happy situations, not about bad news. Never talk about one’s own past illnesses or operations.

12. If there are relatives present, say a quick hello, leave your gift, wish the patient a speedy recovery, and then leave. The relatives will want quality time and privacy with the patient. Sometimes they come from quite a distance and may not be able to come back soon, but a local person from church can always return at a later time.

13. If either the nurse or doctor enters the room to do something for the patient, be polite and leave the room while they are attending the patient. Do this even if the patient says it is okay for you stay.

14. If the patient wants to go for a walk, check with the nurse first. The same would be true if the patient asks for assistance in getting out of bed or in using the bathroom.

15. If the visitor does not know how to respond to something the patient says, sometimes it is better to say nothing at all. Just express concern, offer a prayer, and graciously make a polite departure.

16. Remember that patients are in the hospital because they are sick. Use common sense, smile, and be positive during the visit. If the visitor becomes upset, they should excuse themselves until they can regain control of their own emotions. Be aware that conversations in the hall can be overheard. The whole point of visiting patients in the hospital is to cheer them up. So do not do anything to make the situation tenser than it already is.

17. Every hospital has guidelines they ask visitors to follow. Those guidelines have been put in place for safety reasons. Please be respectful of them.

18. Remember to maintain the confidentiality of those who have been visited. Do not share details of their situation without permission. Do not speculate about their future with others at church.

By following these simply guidelines, lay people can make a positive spiritually based visit to someone in the church. Such a visit can be a great encouragement to a person in the hospital.
These ideas have been adapted from a chapter in the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the
Bivocational Church. Though it was written to help bivocational pastors train leaders to work with them, many fully funded pastors and many lay people are finding it equally helpful to their own ministries.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Teaching Lay People How to Make Pastoral Visits

Many pastors who are fully-funded take time each day to make rounds to the hospital or to the homes of church members to provide pastoral care. Pastors who are bivocational, which means they work a job in addition to serving the church, have much less time to devote to pastoral care. This does not mean that bivocational pastors care less than fully-funded pastors, it is simply a reality of the amount of time bivocational pastors have available due to their other jobs. When a church has a bivocational pastor, it is vital that lay people assume some of the responsibilities for pastoral care; otherwise this important ministry may be unintentionally neglected.

Lay people may feel intimidated about providing pastoral care to their fellow church members. But pastoral care is not as complicated as it may seem. Lay people can be trained to offer pastoral care effectively. There is a difference between a friendly visit and real pastoral care. In order to make effective pastoral care visits, lay people should follow these simple tips:

1. Focus on the person being visited, not our own stories or history of similar situations.

2. Keep the visit short. The visit should be a maximum of ten minutes unless it is a life threatening situation or the person clearly does not want you to leave.

3. Read a short scripture that is appropriate to the situation. Consider purchasing a Minister’s Manual or the Bible Promise Book that has appropriate scriptures organized in categories for easy use.

4. Ask if there is anything the person needs done. It is important to follow up on this need. If the person asks for something that is not feasible, it is better to tell them so and ask if there is anything else that can be done instead. Otherwise it might create a false sense of hope, which can cause greater problems later.

5. Close the visit with a short prayer for the person and the situation.

Adapted from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. The book
contains six easy to use lessons to teach lay people to work as a team with their pastor. Though the book is designed specifically for bivocational pastors, many fully-funded pastors are finding it equally helpful for training their lay people.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Steps to Create a Leadership Team in the Local Church

I have written frequently about the need for churches to be led by teams instead of just one person. Though it is easy to say “use a team,” it is much harder to actually use a team. I suggest the following steps as a practical guideline for how a pastor or lay leader might gather a leadership team in his church.

1. Pray and seek the will of God to determine if this is the right style of leadership to pursue for your specific church at this specific time. Though healthy churches should be led by teams, sometimes the timing is not right and pastors have to put off creating a leadership team for a short period while they deal with others issues. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if this is the right time to move forward with this idea.

2. Spend three to six months teaching the congregation why this leadership style would be right for your church at this particular time. Do not just make an announcement on a Sunday morning and expect people to adopt a new leadership style without time to think it through. Preach from a number of scripture passages that demonstrate team leadership. Do not assume that everyone in the church will get on board after one sermon. Preach about it several times before moving forward with changes to the church leadership structure. In addition to preaching from the scripture, consider teaching chapters 1-3 of the book Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church to the entire congregation over a period of time. Though that book was written specifically for bivocational churches, the material has been used effectively in churches that are not led by a bivocational pastor.

3. Ask the congregation to test out this leadership style for one year before actually making any changes to the church constitution or bylaws. People tend to resist structural change when asked to do something they have never done before. Therefore, remove that barrier by asking the congregation to simply experiment with the idea for a while. If the concept does not work, the old way will still be there to go back too. The structure may have to be tweaked a few times anyway, so do not set it in stone until it is worked out. Once the new leadership structure is working effectively, then make the structure official in whatever ways are appropriate.

4. Ask the congregation to set aside those individuals who will be a part of the leadership team. Pray over the group and ask God to give them wisdom as they move forward. Ask God to give them flexibility as they try a new way of leading. Ask God to help them be willing to change mid-stream if the system adopted is not working as well as it should. Elect the individuals to this leadership team if that is what your congregational polity calls for.

5. Create a pastoral care schedule that includes each person on the team. The goal is to spread out the visitation and ministry duties so that the pastor is not doing it all. This not only makes the congregation healthier, but it gives the pastor a break in order to avoid burn-out. Any system that meets that goal will be a success but these options might be considered: splitting the entire congregation up into groups with each team member assigned a group, giving each team member one week a month to do whatever visitation needs to be done, having the team members make any visits that arise on the pastor’s day off or when out of town, or having one week a month when the pastor makes no visits and the rest of the team makes all the visits.

6. Create a preaching schedule that includes each person on the team. The schedule can be any system that works for the team, but a suggestion would be that the pastor preaches three Sundays a month and one of the other people from the team preaches one Sunday a month. In a month that has five Sundays, a second person from the team would preach one time. Or, if the congregation prefers that the pastor do most of the preaching on Sunday mornings, then assign mid-week Bible studies and other teaching times to the other members of the team so the pastor can focus on making his Sunday morning sermon the best it can be. This is particularly important if the pastor has to work a second job and has limited time to devote to sermon preparation.

7. The leadership team should meet at least once a month to plan sermon topics and update each other on whom in the congregation received a visit and who still needs one. Spend a day together once a year to plan the major annual focuses of the church.

Adapted from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by
CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway. The book contains six easy to use lessons to train lay people to assist their pastor in ministry.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Duane Crossman - SBC Missionary of the Week

This article was originally published in the Winter 2014 issue of Mission Mosaic magazine.